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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Getting to Know Hawaii: My Honolulu and South Oahu Favorites

In order to shorten the number of posts I could potentially do on the topic of my Oahu Favorites, I decided to combine my Honolulu (town) favorite spots and my southern Oahu favorite spots.  In this case, southern Oahu consists of everything from Diamond Head to Makapu'u, including the town of Hawaii Kai.  Hawaii Kai is located just to the east of Honolulu and is absolutely beautiful and charming.  It has some of the best scenery on island in my opinion!  

And then, of course, Honolulu is a huge, beautiful, and diverse city with so many different options when it comes to eating and sightseeing.  Since it is so large, you'll also have to forgive me for this post for being so long.  I couldn't narrow down my favorites to anything less than what I have below sadly!  But trust me when I say everything I do have on here are places that I truly enjoyed in the time we were lucky enough to live on Oahu!


Nico's Pier 38

Open from 6:30AM to 9PM Monday-Saturday; 10AM to 9PM Sunday

Nico's is a delicious gem located off of Nimitz Highway right where fishermen bring in their catches daily for the rest of us to purchase and enjoy.  Because of their location (which has a very nice interior, by the way), you can pretty much guarantee that Nico's will always be serving up something fresh and delicious on its specials menu in the evenings!  We actually prefer to eat here for lunch thanks to more traditional dishes like chicken katsu, loco moco, salads, and other "lighter" fare, but the dinner choices like the ahi, soups, and fresh catches can be pretty great too!  Looking back, we definitely should have eaten here more!

La Tour Cafe

Open from 10AM to 9PM Sunday-Thursday; 10AM to 10PM Friday-Saturday

La Tour Cafe was always one of my favorite stops on island.  What first drew me to this little gem were the macarons that they serve up every day.  I was on a macaron kick for quite a while and La Tour definitely helped satisfy my cravings!  Then I began to try all of the other yummy things on their menu, like the flatbread pizzas, the crispy chicken sandwich (so good!), the chicken pesto sandwich, the La Tour burger...yep, I could keep going for sure!  I am definitely missing this place something fierce!

Tanaka of Tokyo West
Lunch from 11AM to 2PM; dinner from 5PM to 9:30PM

For the longest time, Mr. L and I always went to another teppenyaki restaurant on island to get our hibachi fixes.  Then one day towards the end of our time in Hawaii, we gave Tanaka of Tokyo a second chance.  I'm so glad we did!  It turned out to be way better than we remembered and knocked our old favorite out of the park.  We were super lucky to go in at a random mid-afternoon time and scored our own table, so that definitely helped.  But the food and service were so good!  Even when a mistake was made on one of our orders, the chef treated it like it was no big deal and I got a free steak out of it!  If we were still on island, Tanaka would absolutely be our number one teppenyaki restaurant of choice, hands down :)

Duke's Waikiki
Breakfast buffet from 7AM to 10:30AM; lunch from 11AM; lunch buffet from 11:30AM to 2:30PM; dinner from 4:45PM to 10PM; Barefoot Bar open from 11AM to midnight

Duke's really won me over, but unfortunately for me, that didn't happen until our very last night on Oahu.  I wanted to go somewhere memorable with our friend SJ to celebrate all of our wonderful memories in such a beautiful place, and I'd heard a lot about Duke's from many people.  I'd actually eaten here before for the breakfast buffet, and it was really tasty, but I'd never gotten a chance to try it for dinner.  Let me tell you, they really hit it out of the park for us!  Our food was outstanding.  The beef tenderloin and ribeye were divine, the sides were delicious, and that hula pie they serve is to die for!  We were bursting at the seams but we still couldn't stop ourselves from trying just one more bite.  Our waitress was also very personable, polite, and helpful which made the experience that much nicer.  This was one of the meals I just didn't want to end -- partially because of the food, partially because of the company!  SJ, if and when we make it back to Oahu, I'm taking you back here and it'll be my treat this time!  :)

Leonard's Bakery
Open from 5:30AM to 10PM Sunday-Thursday; 5:30AM to 11PM Friday-Saturday

Leonard's is one of those must-visit places down in Honolulu.  It's iconic sign and pink boxes of deliciousness won their way into my heart as one of the best places on island to get malasadas, or Portuguese donuts.  You can get these little beauties plain (no filling) or with a custard, dobash (chocolate) or haupia (coconut) filling.  My favorite was always the custard!  They also offer monthly "special" flavors, and let me tell you, if you are ever visiting Oahu in the summer months, keep an eye out for the pineapple filling.  It is the best!!

Liliha Bakery

Open from 6AM to 12AM daily

Liliha Bakery is another bakery gem that I was lucky enough to live relatively close to.  The owners have another location in town, but seeing as how I'm not a traffic person, I never made it to that particular location.  Fortunately I got to try this Nimitz location and was able to experience the magic of the coco puff myself.  A coco puff is a delicious pastry treat with chocolate filling and a delicious pastry cream-esque topping.  Mr. L and I could eat these every day!  They also have plenty of other baked goods on hand as well as a full restaurant, although we never did get to try it.  However, we were plenty happy with the boxes and boxes of coco puffs :)

Waiola Shave Ice
Open from 10:30AM to 8:30PM Monday-Saturday; 10AM to 6PM Sunday

Waiola Shave Ice was another recent find for me and Mr. L.  That was one thing that was wonderful about Honolulu -- there was always something new to try or experience, no matter how long you lived there!  And this find?  Well, it was a doozy, people.  After coming to Waiola's new location in the Ward Center, I officially found my new ultimate favorite shave ice.  Matsumoto's is great and Aoki's was fabulous when it was still open, but in my opinion, neither holds a candle to Waiola.  The ice is so smooth and the flavors are an explosion of deliciousness.  I'm drooling just remembering it!  Now, while I go ponder if purchasing this in a response to my severe lack of shave ice is a responsible decision, if you're on island, just make sure you go to any of the Waiola Shave Ice locations -- it's worth it!


Eat the Street

Eat the Street was always one of my favorite events on Oahu.  Dozens of food trucks would gather in a parking lot on South Street and serve up all kinds of delicious treats to thousands of people on the last Friday of every month.  Every time Mr. L and I got to go, we were never disappointed!  Over the years, we naturally developed our favorite food trucks out of the bunch.  Some of them included Soul Patrol, Paul's Poppers, Wow Wow Lemonade, Tin Hut BBQ, Hawaiian Fresh Farms, and SO many more.  Keep in mind that since this is an assortment of food trucks, it's best to bring cash, and there are ATMs on the premises.  Now I have to go start campaigning to bring an "Eat the Street" event here to Alabama!  :)

Diamond Head

Diamond Head is the most well-known natural landmark in all of Hawaii.  As many as 2,000 people per day climb this 0.75-mile hike, and it's very easy to see why it's gotten so popular.  The 360 degree views from the top of Diamond Head overlooking everywhere from Barbers Point, Waikiki Beach, Hawaii Kai, Koko Head, and the Ko'olau mountain range are stunningly breathtaking as well as the highlight of many a visitor's trip to beautiful Oahu.  Because it can become SUPER crowded and also very hot, I would always take my friends and family early in the morning, starting our hike between 7 or 8AM.  It's definitely a great way to wake yourselves up and have an awesome start to your day!

Pu'u 'Ualaka'a State Park

Pu'u 'Ualaka'a State Park has one of the best views of Honolulu and Diamond Head that also happens to be super easy to get to.  You just have to drive to the park!  When friends or family would visit, I would always plan to start the morning with hiking Diamond Head and then come here soon after.  It was really nice to get such different points of view of the city of Honolulu and beyond!  This park is tucked into the backside of the Ko'olau mountain range and is actually usually pretty secluded.  It's a great place to take a picnic and even watch the sunset.  Just keep an eye on when the park closes -- it changes depending on the time of the year.

KCC Farmers' Market

KCC Farmers' Market was probably one of my favorite farmers' markets on island.  They have a wide selection of fresh produce and prepared food from stands, and although it can get very, very crowded, I still think it's worth visiting.  The market is located very close to Diamond Head on the Kapiolani Community College campus.  I definitely recommend getting there sometime around opening to ensure you get the pick of all of the delicious foods the vendors bring.  And pro-tip: try the Portuguese sausage stand towards the back -- the sausage is fantastic!

Bishop Museum

The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum is an absolutely fantastic museum located in Honolulu.  It has a myriad of artifacts and knowledge that really help expose each visitor to the rich history and culture of Hawaii as well as its present-day accomplishments.  Their permanent exhibit includes an incredible three-story open hall with hundreds of displays with an incredible amount of information regarding Hawaii's founding, its monarchs, its people, and how it became apart of the United States.  Their rotating exhibits are also great.  The last time we went, the exhibit was about rollercoasters, and they've done things like Legos in the past.  Super fun!  I highly, highly recommend that anyone who wants a more thorough background of how Hawaii came to be what it is today visit the Bishop Museum -- it's completely worth it!  

Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay is one of those very special places on Oahu (and therefore very popular).  This bay is one of the top snorkeling locations on Oahu, and for good reason.  It's absolutely teeming with all kinds of sea life!  It's a great location for diving too, although you do that farther out into the water.  Since Hanauma is so popular, you need to arrive there before 9AM -- preferably around 7 to 8.  You get a much better experience without the crowds, and you get to choose the best snorkeling areas before they become overrun (I prefer the two open areas and the reef in between towards the bottom of the above picture).  There is a steep admission fee, but if you're military or kama'aina you get in free!  Now that's a price anyone would be happy with ;)

Spitting Caves

Spitting Caves (AKA China Walls) is a very special coastal area located in Hawaii Kai.  The smooth, layered rock is a testament to the power and force of the Pacific Ocean, which pounds the coastline daily.  At this particular location, there's a cave that actually "spits" back out waves that roll violently into the cave, creating a spectacular effect.  I absolutely loved coming here to watch the waves roll in and out of that cave and gaze out into the ocean.  It's also a great place to watch a sunset!  Since it's in a neighborhood, just make sure to remain respectful, pick up after yourself, and don't block any driveways if you choose to visit this beautiful place.


Other posts in my Oahu Favorites mini-series:

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